Review: Occult Academy 5 & 6

Just another ordinary day at Occult Academy.

As those of you who have been listening to the podcast know, my opinion of the recent Occult Academy episodes has been rather low. Episode 3 was just plain boring, and episode 4 completely derailed Fumiaki’s character, turning him into cowardly comic relief. Now, these two episodes weren’t BAD per se, but they also weren’t anywhere near as good as the first two. Seeing such a promising show fall from grace was painful, and I was starting to worry that Occult Academy would completely squander its potential just like So Ra No Wo To. Boy, am I glad to be wrong.

Episodes 5 and 6 were a complete turnaround. Thanks in large part to the strong writing, these episodes picked up the pace, un-derailed Fumiaki’s character, and rekindled my interest in the show. They even nailed the comedy, which was both hilarious and perfectly blended with the more serious aspects of the story. And, best of all, Mikaze got almost no screentime! Will wonders never cease?

Find out more after the break.

On second thought, LARPing Persona 3 was probably a bad idea.

Episode 5 mainly focuses around ditzy glasses-girl Kozue, whose amateurish interest in the occult leads her to try and have a supernatural experience,  even at the expense of her personal safety. Fortunately, Maya and Ami are around to keep her from killing herself, and Maya even coldly disproves any false occult claims she makes. Eventually, the three girls wind up eating lunch on the school’s roof, and Kozue reveals that her occult obsession stems from her favorite book The Little Prince.

What is essential is invisible to the eye. What everybody searches for can be found in a single rosebud, or a small pool of water. But you can’t see it with your eyes. You need to see it with your heart.

Another literary reference to make you feel inadequate!

Meanwhile, Mikaze asks Fumiaki for permission to sell her baked goods on campus, to help pay off her car loan. He forwards the request to Maya, who denies it. However, Fumiaki manages to forge the approval stamp in a rather hilarous fashion, which I won’t spoil here. After that, Kozue (still desperately wanting to witness something supernatural) volunteers to take part in a near-death experience experiment. After being placed in a machine designed to simulate death for three minutes, she finds herself floating in the afterlife, a strange landscape of oceans, bubbles and clouds. The other students, including Maya and Ami, watch this on a large screen. After her three minutes are up, Kozue emerges from the machine, but something has gone wrong. She no longer needs her glasses, and dismisses the entire experience as “silly occult stuff.” After she leaves, an image of her appears on the screen, still trapped in the afterlife and searching desperately for her glasses…

Megane... Megane...

This episode was a bit of a mixed bag for me, but my overall impression was still positive.  The pacing started off rather slow, probably due to my apathy towards Kozue’s character. However, by the halfway mark, she had grown on me to the point that I really started to enjoy her scenes. Of course, the D-plot involving Fumiaki and Mikaze was as dreadfully boring as ever; fortunately, they didn’t get much screentime. The comedy was a bit hit-and-miss, but mostly good. Where this episode really impressed was the last scene involving the trip into the afterlife. This lead into a cliffhanger that, I kid you not, literally had me biting my nails in anticipation. Overall, the excellent ending redeemed what would have otherwise merely been a middling episode.

Bride of Mothman!

Episode 6 starts with Maya and Ami trying to discover exactly what’s wrong with Kozue. Her eyesight is now perfect, and her interest in the occult has vanished entirely. In an effort to try and return her to normal, Maya and company expose her to various ostensibly supernatural objects, none of which impress her. Eventually, Fumiaki (who is still trying to make amends with Maya) offers to help with a fake psychic spoon-bending trick. Naturally, it goes badly… but Maya uses the situation to bring Kozue’s previous obsession with The Little Prince to her attention. Upon hearing a quote from the book, Kozue breaks down into tears, realizing that some part of her has vanished. Maya concludes that Kozue has accidentally left a piece of her heart, the part that loved the occult, in the afterlife. She resolves to use the near-death experience machine herself to recover it. However, Fumiaki heroically volunteers to take her place, showing that he does indeed possess courage and resolve. Maya, surprised by this sudden heroism, allows him to proceed.

Saving the world in a swimsuit. Aww yeah.

In the afterlife, Fumiaki is confronted by flashbacks to his childhood, the loneliest part of his life, when his mother was obsessed with exploiting his psychic abilities for monetary gain. Maya empathizes with this, remembering her own abusive occult-obsessed father. Fumiaki then remembers scenes from the alien invasion of Earth, a nightmarish vision filled with massive alien war machines, nuclear explosions and cities in ruins. After this he finds Kozue, who is huddled in a fetal position quoting The Little Prince and lamenting how she cannot see anything. To everyone’s surprise, Fumiaki discovers her problem is rather simple… her glasses are stuck in her hair. After flipping them back on her eyes, she returns to her old self and the two escape the afterlife successfully.

Later, Maya makes amends with Fumiaki, and resolves to help him in his quest to find Nostradamus’ key and stop the alien invasion of Earth. The two shake on it, finally putting their differences behind them.

Holy crap! Maya actually SMILED! Be still, my beating heart...

This episode was perfect. Everything about it clicked for me: the pacing, the characterization and the writing was all spot on. It was especially nice to see Fumiaki get some sympathetic character development, showing that he can be much more than a pathetic gag character.  The first half of the episode also had some great humor; the running gag involving Kozue’s occult obsession was especially amusing. In my opinion, not a single one of these jokes was a dud. Furthermore, in the second half when they transitioned to the more serious matter of Fumiaki’s painful flashbacks, it didn’t feel forced or disconcerting in the slightest. That is this series’ greatest strength… the ability to seamlessly juxtapose its comic and solemn elements into a harmonious whole.

This is especially evident in the scene where Fumiaki rescues Kozue; when it was revealed that Kozue had merely lost sight of her glasses, I was blown away. Not only did this make for a great gag (with some epic reaction shots) and a satisfying conclusion to the episode’s mystery, it also made sense in a philosophical context. Kozue had been lamenting that her heart was not yet ready to see that which is invisible, but at the end, it turns out she had her sight all along. In other words, this plot point not only served as a denouement for the ongoing Little Prince subplot, but also as an important moment of realization for Kozue’s character. So many layers of meaning in a single scene… now that is great writing!

But enough of this pretentious literary crap. Let's stare at Maya's sexy legs some more!

This show was dangerously close to losing my interest, but it pulled itself back from the brink just in time. And not a moment too soon… we’re halfway through the summer season already, which means Occult Academy only has seven more episodes to get the story really moving. Although a bit weak in the middle, the introductory act has been a smashing success. Will this show continue to impress?